While the news cycle was rife with stories of the tragic shooting death of 7-year-old Amari Brown in the West Side Humboldt Park neighborhood, something happened a few miles south in a community usually held up as the poster-child for violence. In Englewood, over the course of what has become one of the most dreaded weekends of the year due to the levels of violence — not one person was shot and not one person was killed.
This is significant — in part because it defied statistics, but more because of what it took to get this result. All too often, discussions of violence in Chicago lead to a sense of defeatism, or worse — empty political posturing such as labeling people domestic terrorists, or pleading for more police, as though these will put a stop to the violence. The reality is that the individuals in this community deserve the credit for the numbers that weekend. They did what all communities must do. They rolled up their sleeves and decided they were not going to accept any violence in their neighborhood. They provided the necessary supplement to police intervention.
Men and women across Englewood put together a comprehensive plan to monitor their own streets. They demonstrated that a community that prays — and acts — can shift the dynamic of violence to a dynamic of peace. The next step is to make this a paradigm shift by establishing a new culture of intense community engagement.
It’s certainly a heavy lift. It would be difficult to maintain that level of surveillance every weekend of the year. But to create the peace we desire requires that level of commitment and work from the community. After all, these are our neighborhoods and we must first do for ourselves before we expect anyone else to do for us.
Now if only, in addition to the level of community engagement demonstrated by these residents, our elected public servants moved away from empty rhetoric and focused on addressing the root causes of violence — poor nutrition, lack of mental health resources, non-existent economic development, frayed family structures, punitive instead of restorative justice measures, and more — then we’d see some real, lasting results.
Amara Enyia is a public policy consultant